The Kindness Test

I am a keen listener to All In The Mind, the Radio 4 programme about psychology, so I was delighted when the presenter, Claudia Hammond, devoted a whole episode to the theme of kindness just before we returned to school. Kindness is one of the Academy’s three core values. A strength of the heart, it is a cornerstone of our Academy culture and central to our approach to education. I was therefore fascinated to hear what the psychological research has to tell us about the subject.

The episode was devoted to the Kindness Test, a mass research project from the University of Sussex. The project seeks to explore how kindness is viewed within society at large and will add to the growing research base on the importance of kindness, exploring issues such as: 

  • What are the most common kind acts people carry out?
  • Where do people most often experience kindness?  
  • What are the barriers to behaving more kindly? 
  • How is kindness valued in the workplace? 
  • Is kindness viewed as a weakness?  
  • What prevents people from being kinder? 
  • How does kindness relate to factors such as well-being, mental health, geographical location, gender and personality? 
  • How is kindness connected with compassion and empathy? 
  • How does kindness relate to our value systems?  

The questionnaire for the research project is only open to participants who are 18 years of age or older, so unfortunately our students cannot participate – although I think they would have a lot to say about the topic and plenty of examples to share! But the radio programme which accompanied it was a fascinating exploration of ideas around kindness, and what we already know. Here are some of my key takeaways:

Kindness is instinctive

Chief researcher Professor Robert Banerjee explained the theory that the “warm glow” we get from helping others activates the same part of our brain as eating delicious food, or receiving a treat for ourselves. Studies have shown that young children at the age of two will help others, or comfort those in distress, even when no reward is expected for themselves. All of this suggests that kindness to others is something instinctive that gives our species an evolutionary advantage. Perhaps kindness strengthened our stone age or Neanderthal communities, building trust and mutual support between individuals so that they would function more effectively as one unit? This evolutionary advantage now manifests in our modern society as the “warm glow” of doing something kind for someone else.

Kindness is selfless

Even though we receive a wellbeing boost when we’re kind to others, psychologists don’t think this is the reason why we are kind. In fact, if we are kind to others only because we know we’ll get rewarded for it – either with praise, recognition, or a physical reward – we don’t get the same “warm glow” as when we’re kind just because we want to help somebody else out. That selfless kindness, when we help someone out without any thought for recognition or reward for ourselves, feels better than doing the right thing because we know we’ll get something out of it. It sounds like a contradiction – but it makes sense!

Kindness builds a strong culture

Jürgen Klopp is cited as a “leading light” in kind leadership

Pinky Lilani, one of the guests on the programme, discussed research undertaken with the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford into kindness and leadership. Using “leading lights” including Liverpool Manager Jürgen Klopp, the researchers found that kindness has the ability to build trust, confidence and loyalty in business, sport, and industry. It is becoming an increasingly influential leadership style, characterised by empathy and respect – and it gets results.

Kindness isn’t soft

One of the criticisms of kindness is that it’s soft, or that is can be perceived as a weakness if you’re too kind. But actually, providing honest critique and feedback to somebody is kind, as it helps them to improve – but it is neither soft, weak or easy. It’s actually really hard to do. But, when someone can do better, the kindest thing we can do it to help them to get there.

Honest, constructive feedback can be hard to give – and to receive!

At Churchill we work really hard to build a culture where we can provide that honest, helpful feedback to help one another improve. We talk about being “hard on the content, supportive of the person.” This means approaching feedback with the highest expectations, but with empathy about how the critique will be received. On the other side, we expect those receiving the feedback to focus on the improvements they can make to continue to make a positive difference to themselves, understanding that the feedback comes with kind intentions.

Kindness helps us understand diversity

Robin Banerjee gave a really helpful explanation of how empathy and kindness help us understand difference. He puts his case so perfectly that I quote it here rather than attempting to summarise:

The fact of the matter is that there is always going to be differences of opinion, different perspectives, different points of view. Part of the challenge for all of us as we grow up…is navigating difference, working out how to respond when other people have different perspectives from you. And that’s the cornerstone of empathy – to walk in someone else’s shoes, to see the world from their perspective. So I think one of the things that we need to recognise is that it isn’t about standardising everything so that everyone thinks in exactly the same way. The beauty of our world comes from difference, comes from diversity. So kindness is all about the stance that we take in navigating that diversity.

Robin Banerjee, Professor of Psychology at the University of Sussex and principal investigator for the Kindness Test

It was a fascinating programme, full of insights into a quality that is so important to us at Churchill. I have filled in the questionnaire; I look forward to hearing what the research discovers about kindness in our world today when it is published in 2022.

Welcome back!

And, just like that, we’re back! It has been fantastic this week to have the Academy full of students again, getting back to learning. The screens are already filling up with extra curricular opportunities, including auditions for the school production. It promises to be spectacular!

As term has begun, I have met with all main school students for their “welcome back” assemblies. In those assemblies I have been through the practical arrangements for the year ahead, but also taken the opportunity to reinforce our vision, values and expectations so that everyone is clear.

Site Development

The interior of Stuart House, August 2021

Over the summer we have completed the second and begun the third and final phase of our redevelopment works in Stuart and Lancaster House, home to Humanities and Languages. The second phase has seen the completion of the middle section of the building, with further new air-conditioned classrooms, staff offices, and facilities. The third phase began with the removal of all the internal walls and classrooms around the Stuart Green Room – as you can see in the picture above, it created a massive space! Contractors are now beginning the process of building new classrooms, offices, student toilets and a social space, all with the latest materials designed to control acoustics within the building – and with air conditioning as standard. We expect this work to be completed by March 2022, when we will be able to move in!

COVID

COVID is still with us, and we are still taking precautions in line with the government guidance. This includes the testing of students on their return to school, and the re-introduction of twice-weekly home testing for COVID-19. In my assemblies, I reiterated the current COVID guidance and procedures, which are explained in detail on the website.

Why are we here?

The start of the year is the ideal time to remind us all of why we are here – why Churchill Academy & Sixth Form exists in the first place. Our purpose is simple:

To inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference

I talked to our students about the positive difference they can make to themselves, every single day they attend the Academy. At the end of each day, I asked them to reflect to themselves: what do I know now that I didn’t know yesterday? What am I better at now than I was twenty four hours ago? How have I improved?

It’s also the case that our students can make a positive difference to the Academy that they belong to. Each of them is unique; each of them brings something special to our community. Their being here – the contribution that they make – makes the Academy better.

And, finally, it is our ambition that our students can go out into the world and – as a result of all they have learned at Churchill – make a positive difference in our society. We hope that they will be able to solve problems, help others, and improve things for all of us and for generations to come. It’s a lofty ambition, but when you look at the potential of our Churchill students this year I genuinely believe that anything is possible.

Inclusion and diversity

I outlined an important focus of our work this year, on inclusion and diversity, but explaining what we mean by it. In simple terms, this priority is about:

Ensuring that everybody is welcome, and every member of the Academy feels that they belong

This is a shared responsibility for us all, and something we will be promoting and developing – with the help of our students – throughout the year. It is essential we get this right so we can continue to build the friendly, welcoming community we are all so proud to be a part of.

Sustainability

Our second area of focus for the year is on our own sustainability. We have an ambition to be a carbon-neutral school by 2030. This is no easy task in a resource-hungry institution like ours! But, again with our students’ help, we are driving down energy usage, driving down waste, and improving recycling, encouraging re-usable resources, and looking after our green spaces and facilities. Lots more to follow on this as the year progresses.

Learning

At the end of my “welcome back” assembly, I turn to our core business: learning. I take every opportunity, including this one, to remind our students of the six habits and dispositions that have been shown through research to have the biggest impact on successful learning. These are the things that we promote through our effort grades, our values, our lesson planning, and our classroom expectations.

Our learning values

These are the things that we expect from our students every minute of every hour of every day. From my visits to classrooms this week, they have taken this message to heart. I saw Year 8 students grappling with the concept of infinity in Maths and exploring the story of Edward Colston in Drama; Year 10 students learning about synecdoche in English; Year 7s exploring the Norman conquest of Britain and responding to medieval Occitan troubadour music; Year 11 learning about the nervous system’s response to stimuli; and Sixth Form students learning from alumni about successfully applying to Oxford and Cambridge University. And that’s just scratching the surface!

The year’s got off to a great start: it’s up to all of us to keep it going!

End of year assembly

In my end-of-year assemblies this week, I have tried to do three things. Firstly, I have tried to look back over the year that we’ve had. Secondly, I have celebrated the successes of our students – including awarding the House Cup! And finally, I have looked ahead to next year.

The year gone by

SARS-CoV-2 virus

The year has, of course, been dominated by the coronavirus. It is a tiny thing, ≈0.1 μm in diameter, yet it has led to more than 5m cases and 128,000 deaths in England, according to government figures. It’s worth remembering: this is not normal. This is not how we are used to living. And we hope that it will change.

It’s easy to characterise the year gone by in terms of what we’ve missed out on. From October, we’ve missed out on our vertical tutor groups, which make our House system so strong. After Christmas we were locked down, with some students joining us in school for Frontline, but most of them set up at home with laptops, tablets or mobile phones to access Google Meets and Zooms. We missed out on face to face teaching, on seeing our friends, and on seeing our families. We’ve missed out on holidays, on trips to the cinema or the theatre, on seeing live music and sporting events.

It has been a hard year. But I don’t want to focus on what we’ve missed out on. What I want to do is to be grateful for the fact that we are here. We are together at the end of this really difficult year with a lot to be grateful for. If we start with where we are as a country, we can see that many, many fewer people are now dying as a result of COVID-19. We should be grateful to the amazing National Health Service for the vaccination programme they have rolled out, as well as the incredible care they have offered during this pandemic.

As a school we are grateful that, thanks to the efforts and focus of our students during lockdown and beyond, we are seeing that the vast majority have remained on track with learning through this year. In other words, our students are not a million miles away from where we would expect them to be in if they hadn’t spend several months learning through a screen.

Celebrating success

I was really pleased that we were able to complete our Activities Week and Sports Day towards the end of term, despite the pandemic. These were great opportunities to celebrate successes, including learning beyond the classroom in different environments. Of course, Tudor House won through on Sports Day, although Lancaster led the way in Year 8, and Hanover in Years 9 and 10 – so next year it’s all up for grabs!

Over this last week of term, alongside holding the finals of our Bake Off, Poetry and Spelling Bee competitions, we have been sending home our Celebration of Success certificates to students whose attitude to learning, academic accomplishments, and personal qualities shine through day after day, week after week, month after month. It has been a great honour to review those awards and see them added to this year’s Roll of Honour. I hope that, next year, we will be able to hand them out in person.

The established end-of-year traditions have also been disrupted this year – and the House Cup competition is no exception. There have been many fewer inter-house events than we would have normally held, and we are really looking forward to coming back full throttle next year! The competition was still held however, with the following winners:

  • Academics: combination of each House’s attendance, conduct points and effort grades – winners STUART HOUSE and LANCASTER HOUSE.
  • Competitions: combined totals from all the inter-house competitions – winners TUDOR HOUSE.
  • Overall House Cup Winners: combined totals from all the inter-house activities – winners TUDOR HOUSE

Congratulations to all our students – and especially to Tudor House!

Looking ahead

The pandemic will still be with us in the year ahead. However the new guidance on contact tracing and isolation outlined in my recent update letter to parents will, we hope, reduce the disruption caused to education. We are looking forward to what we hope will be an uninterrupted year with our students, to get back to what we do best – inspiring and enabling young people to make a positive difference.

We are so grateful to our students for the positive difference they have made to our Academy community by being part of it this year. In our students I see bundles of potential, just waiting to be channelled and unleashed on the world. Even when things have been difficult, they have been a pleasure to work with. We are so proud of the positive difference they have made to themselves this year: the progress they have made in their learning; the confidence, resilience and determination they have built up as they have overcome challenges; and the kindness they have shown to themselves and others in their actions. As we step forward to next year in pursuit of the priorities laid out in our development plan, we look forward to what we can achieve together.

More immediately, of course, we are looking forward to a well-deserved summer break. After the year we’ve had, our students deserve some time to rest, recharge and recover – and our staff desperately need it too! The Headteacher’s Blog will return in September.

Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, summer 2021

Sports Day 2021

After last year’s virtual event, this year we were determined to bring Sports Day back “for real” – and the 2021 event delivered! Year group bubbles were the order of the day, with separate sections of the field for each group of competitors. Year 7 and 8 started on the top field for the Tug of War, whilst Years 9 and 10 began the day with track and field events on the bottom field and the 3G. After break, both halves of the school swapped over, before all coming together in year group areas to watch and compete in the the track finale: 100m, 200m, 300m and 4x100m relay.

House spirit was in full display, with the mascots making a big entrance and encouraging their teams throughout the day. Face-paint and glitter was liberally applied – to the extent that some Windsor students began to resemble their smurf mascot! – and the cheering never let up from start to finish. The whole day was soundtracked by Mr Hartley in the DJ booth, including singlaongs to Three Lions and Sweet Caroline in anticipation of the England men’s football team’s appearance in the final of the Euros.

Competitors and spectators were well catered for, with Aspen’s providing all-day barbecue food and the Sixth Form ice-cream stand proving very popular! The Sixth Form provided much support for the day, acting as guides, timekeepers, litter-pickers, umpires and more.

At the business end of the day, the competition was fierce. Peter Skeen (Year 11) and Mr Gale kept the scores and records regularly updated in a magnificently sprawling spreadsheet. In total eight school records and twenty seven house records were broken on the day. You can see all the record breakers on the Academy website here.

The broken records all contributed to the overall competition, which saw Tudor House establish an early lead. Lancaster mustered a late surge with some very impressive sprint performances, whilst Hanover overtook Windsor into second place by one point courtesy of a victory in the final event of the day – the Year 10 boys’ 4x100m relay. Tudor’s lead proved unassailable, and they completed the double by also lifting the Tug of War Trophy.

Our student reporters were out and about throughout the day, and got their newspaper published almost as soon as the winner was announced! You can read The Finishing Line on the Academy website here.

Thanks to all the competitors, spectators and staff who made Sports Day possible. It was just what we needed after the year we’ve had! Enjoy some pictures from the day in the gallery below.

Activities Week 2021

Activities Week is a vital part of the Academy calendar. It’s an opportunity for us to take learning outside the classroom, to develop vital skills such as teamwork, leadership, creativity and problem solving whilst also building confidence in new environments. This year, more than ever, our students have needed the opportunity to get out into the fresh air and enjoy the feeling of freedom in the summer sunshine (and occasional British summer downpour). Not to mention that having lots of time outdoors greatly reduces the risk of infection with covid and the chance of any more bubbles popping in the final week of term…

It’s normally the time when we are able to get our residential trips away to Europe and beyond. This year that hasn’t been possible, but the staff have done an amazing job of organising superb activities around the Academy site and our beautiful local area. It’s been a big logistical challenge, but we’ve managed it! We’re grateful to Adventure Bristol and Mendip Outdoor for helping us with their expertise, and to the amazing team of staff who have pitched in, helped out and solved problems throughout the week. I must pay particular tribute to Mr Davies, who masterminded the whole thing and then ended up having to call the shots remotely whilst self-isolating at home as a close contact of a coronavirus case. What a trooper!

I have tried to take in as many of the activities as possible this week. On Monday, I spent a fantastic day with Year 7 on their sponsored walk along the Strawberry Line and up to Crooks Peak. I started at the back and tried to power-walk all the way to the front, so I would see the whole of Year 7 walking. I managed it – although I paid for it the next day with very stiff legs! Luckily on Tuesday I was based in school, with Year 7 again on the Adventure Bristol activities and Year 10 on Basecamp with candle-making, nail art, some delicious looking cream teas and plenty more besides…

On Wednesday I ventured out again with Year 10 the water sports day – although half of the day was more like mud sports as the students tackled a tough-mudder-style assault course. Having seen some of our students fling themselves through a mud pit with glorious abandon, I don’t think I’ll ever see them in the same light again!

Finally, on Thursday I was back at school with Year 9 and Year 8 – although sadly I had to spend several hours chained to my desk wading through the latest government guidance on Step 4 of the roadmap and working out how much of what we’d already planned for September we would need to unpick and re-do. Such are the joys of headship! I did manage to get out to most of the activities as well, and even manged to race Mr Sharp over the giant inflatable assault course in the sports hall. I’ll let Year 9 tell you who won.

I’ve had my camera with me throughout the week, and thought readers might enjoy my photo diary.

Activities Week ends with Sports Day tomorrow. There are records to be broken (you can see the current records on our website) and it’s really all to play for. We last had a proper Sports Day in 2019, so we don’t know what our Year 7 and 8 students are capable of in track and field. At the same time, the transfer of some older students to Lancaster House in September has meant that Stuart House’s recent dominance may be under threat. Who will win? Only time will tell!

Academy Priorities 2021-22

Churchill Academy & Sixth Form is an independent entity governed by the Academy Trust Board. Our Trustees are responsible for ensuring high standards of achievement for all children and young people in the school by ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction; holding me and my senior leadership team to account for the educational performance of the Academy and its students, and the performance management of staff; and overseeing the financial performance of the Academy and making sure its money is well spent.

Our Trustees are volunteers, who give their time willingly and freely in the interests of the students of the Academy. They have been working tirelessly (albeit mostly remotely) to continue their governance of the Academy through the pandemic. The significant investments in our site, our staffing, and resources to keep children safe and learning have all been as a result of the board’s skilful, knowledgeable and expert governance. In fact, as we reflected this week at our first in-person, socially distanced meeting since the pandemic began, our Academy is in a very strong position to ensure that the education recovery from the pandemic continues for our students.

This week we have published our priorities and development plan for the coming year. The development plan supports the second year of progress towards the Five Year Plan which sets our sets our strategic direction from 2020-2025. You can read the full Academy Priorities and Development Plan for 2021-22 on the Academy website, but in this post I will take you through the key areas which we will be focusing on in the next academic year.

Setting the direction

The past year has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruption to education, with two years of cancelled exams and two separate periods of national lockdown seeing the Academy closed to all but the children of key workers and identified vulnerable students. Even when schools were fully open, self-isolations disrupted learning, and public health concerns suspended our ability to bring our community together through assemblies, vertical tutoring, and extra-curricular activities.

In the wider world, we have heard the voices of those who have too often been marginalised and oppressed have come to the fore on social media and on the streets. This swirling maelstrom of tension and conflict has resonated at Churchill too; we must do all we can to help our students understand the contexts of inequality so that they can go on to make a positive difference themselves in building a more tolerant, inclusive, just and equal society.

Despite the challenges, 2020-21 saw the realisation of developmental work on the curriculum, teaching and learning, and student leadership. The success of our bid to rebuild Stuart and Lancaster house areas saw the realisation of long-term plans around the learning environment. This year is about the implementation of those long-term plans, with careful quality assurance to assess their impact.

Priority 1: Inclusion and diversity

Our top priority is to continue to develop our values-led culture so that everyone understands the importance and value of diversity and inclusion, particularly with reference to ethnicity, gender and neurodiversity. This means that we will be working hard to ensure that staff and students fully understand the underlying issues relating to inclusion in schools, so that all students feel welcome and thrive at the Academy.

Central to that will be a focused drive to ensure that everybody understands that there is no place for racism, sexual harassment, discrimination or prejudice at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form or in society. These are big issues for us as a country, and across the world, at the moment. If we are to achieve our purpose as an Academy – to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference – we must work together to ensure that all our students are able to help ensure that we continue to make progress as a society. It is vital that everyone has an equal chance to succeed, no matter where they come from, who they are, how they identify, or how they experience the world. We intend that our education over the coming year, and beyond, will address these issues head on.

Priority 2: Student engagement and leadership

We know that our students are wonderful. Our second priority for next year is to ensure that we give them the opportunity to show the leadership we know they are capable of, in service of the Academy and the wider community. This work has already started this year, with the formation of the Student Council and the introduction of the leadership ladders. With the Academy closed to the majority of students from January through to March, we weren’t able to make as much progress with this as we would have liked – but we have great plans for the year ahead!

At the same time, as we emerge from the grip of the pandemic, we want to revitalise our extra-curricular programme, inter-house competitions, trips, activities and all the things that bubbles and COVID restrictions have prevented us from doing – all the “extra” stuff that makes Churchill special. Our aim is to ensure that every single student can participate in, and benefit from, the experiences that the Academy has to offer.

Priority 3: Teaching and Learning, and Priority 4: Curriculum

Our core business is wrapped up in priorities 3 and 4. The curriculum is what we teach; our pedagogy is how we teach it. We have developed a set of evidence-based teaching and learning principles which characterise effective pedagogy; over the past year we have been weaving those principles through our newly redesigned curriculum. September 2021 will see the roll-out of both these vital aspects. This roll-out will be accompanied by careful ongoing evaluation, to make sure that both what we are teaching, and the way we are teaching it, are working in tandem to ensure that our students make the best possible progress in every lesson.

Priority 5: Sustainability

Our final objective for next year focuses on the fifth element of the Five Year Plan, which has the goal of ensuring we are a sustainable institution financially, environmentally and in human resources. Behind the scenes we will be working hard to ensure we are as efficient as possible, so that every penny possible can continue to be spent on improving the education of our students. More visibly, we will be pushing forward on our Green Churchill agenda, improving recycling provision and driving down our carbon footprint still further in pursuit of our goal of being carbon neutral by 2030. We will be relying on our students to help us drive this part of our work – we want to be the greenest school in the south west, if not the country!

These five objectives are ambitious and challenging – but that ambition is what makes Churchill successful. We have achieved so much this past year, despite the pandemic; I am excited at the prospect of what is possible with a full and hopefully uninterrupted year ahead of us.

Thank a teacher

This week was National Thank A Teacher day, on Wednesday 23rd June. It is always lovely to receive messages of thanks, not just on one day of the year but at any time! One of the things that has sustained us at Churchill through the past fifteen months has been the stream of positive comments from parents and families, showing their gratitude for the work of all school staff – not just teachers – for working through lockdowns and beyond to keep education moving forward for our students. It was particularly gratifying, when the Secretary of State for Education suggested that parents should report schools to Ofsted if they weren’t doing well enough during the pandemic, that the schools inspectorate was overwhelmed by 13,000 messages praising schools – and only 260 complaints.

I would like to add my thanks to all those positive messages of support. The staff at Churchill – all the staff, not just the teachers – have been amazing. We have got through the most difficult year that any of us have known as a team, looking out for each other and supporting our shared purpose of keeping our Academy community strong, no matter what. It has been a privilege to be part of it.

Thank A Teacher Day reminded me of the teachers who made a difference to me. There are many, but two in particular stick in my mind.

  • Mrs Chamberlain: Mrs Chamberlain was my teacher in Year 5 at Elmgrove Primary School in Harrow. The difference she made was that she made be believe in myself. I’d always loved learning, but she opened up my eyes to what was possible if I worked really, really hard. She set us projects, and encouraged us to push ourselves. Our whole class flourished – and I’ve never forgotten it. When I became a teacher myself I wrote to thank her for the impact she had on me.
  • Mr Rattue: Mr Rattue was my English teacher in Year 8 (I think…or it might have been Year 7?!) and again in the Sixth Form. I always loved English because I loved stories – reading and writing them – but in Year 12 Mr Rattue taught us a unit which took us through the whole history of English Literature from Geoffrey Chaucer through to the modern day. We studied a couple of poems or extracts from key writers from every period. It wasn’t on the syllabus or the exam, but he wanted us to be able to put our understanding of texts in context. This unit gave me an overview of the subject which allowed me to make connections between ideas, writers and movements that otherwise I would have learned about in isolation. This made a huge difference, helping me to understand English Literature as a subject, rather than just learning about individual writers, books or poems. Mr Rattue had also studied English at Oxford, and helped me to believe that, maybe, that was something I could do too.

We can all remember the teachers who shaped our school days – for good and for bad! If there’s a teacher who has made a difference to you, make sure you say thank you – it makes a big difference to them, too.

Come on England!

I’ve watched England all my life. My earliest memory is collecting Panini Stickers for the 1982 World Cup in Spain. These sticker albums were all the rage, with packs flying off the shelves and a busy market of “swapsies” in the primary school playground as we all set about trying to complete our collections. Nobody I knew ever did! Although I don’t remember much about the tournament itself (I was seven!), I do remember being very happy about getting the Kevin Keegan sticker in my England page…

The 1986 World Cup is much clearer in my memory. I remember the injustice of Maradona’s handball goal, sending us crashing out in the quarter finals. I remember Italia ’90 too, when Chris Waddle’s penalty miss sent us out at the semi-final stage.

Summer 1996 gave me the tournament that I will never forget. I was 21 years old, and I had just finished my final exams at university. I was waiting around for my friends to finish theirs, before we all headed off for a holiday in France together to celebrate the end of three years at university. The sun was shining, Britpop was at its height, and we had the Euros on home soil.

Criticism of the team was rife before the tournament, but it soon turned round on a tidal wave of national expectation. Although we thrashed the Netherlands 4-1, the game of the tournament for me was England vs Scotland. There was so much riding on the match, with a lot of criticism in the press counterbalanced by a rising tide of national expectation. Shearer settled nerves early on, and keeper David Seaman pulled off a magnificent penalty save – but it was Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne’s sublime bit of skill just on the edge of the Scottish penalty area which propelled us all to believe that maybe, just maybe, this was our year.

Of course, it wasn’t to be. Gazza’s outstretched foot was just a whisker away from converting a Shearer cross into a golden goal in extra time of the semi final, but it finished goalless. Current England manager Gareth Southgate’s agonising penalty miss sent us crashing out and the dream was over.

Michael Owen provided the moment of the tournament for me in 1998. Aged just 18, his pace terrified opposing defenders. He ripped through Argentina to score a stunner in the last 16 of the World Cup, before we went out, yet again, on penalties.

It’s a familiar pattern. You start the tournament feeling realistic: there are much better teams in the draw. We don’t really stand a chance. But then the players step on to the pitch, and you hear the national anthem. They string a few passes together. The keeper makes a decent save. There’s a moment of brilliance, the ball is in the back of the net, and you’re up off the sofa yelling in excitement. You start to believe…this could be our moment. This could be it. We could actually win this. Until – usually – we don’t.

Now we’re back on home soil again. In the topsy-turvy world that we currently inhabit, the 2020 Euros are being played all across the continent…in 2021. We were lucky enough to go to Wembley to watch a qualifier (5-0 against Bulgaria), so we’re fully invested! We’ve got the wall chart up. We’ve drawn our teams in the sweepstake (I’ve got Spain…), dusted off the St George’s flags and plotted out the various routes to the final. Could this be our year?

Gareth Southgate is the man of the moment. I’ve been impressed by his calm, controlled approach to the task. He doesn’t listen to the thousands of armchair pundits across the land, cursing him for picking Tripper at left back and questioning Sterling’s inclusion in the team given his poor club form this year. He assesses the situation in front of him, and makes the call that he thinks is right. He proved, in the 2018 World Cup, that he knows what he is doing. He can lead a team through a major tournament and the team are with him.

His beautifully written “Dear England” shows that he knows that the national team is about much more than football. He said: “the result is just a small part of it. When England play, there’s much more at stake than that. It’s about how we conduct ourselves on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite, how we create memories that last beyond the 90 minutes. That last beyond the summer. That last forever…I think about all the young kids who will be watching this summer, filling out their first wall charts. No matter what happens, I just hope that their parents, teachers and club managers will turn to them and say, “Look. That’s the way to represent your country. That’s what England is about. That is what’s possible.”

On Sunday, against Croatia, in a re-match against the team that knocked us out of the World Cup in 2018, on a gloriously sunny afternoon, at Wembley Stadium with 22,500 actual fans in the stands, his players showed us what’s possible. Kalvin Phillips was a tremendous presence, finding Raheem Sterling to set us on our way with a solid 1-0 victory. And so, hope begins to bloom again…

My 21-year-old self still lives on in my 46-year-old body. He still lives the moment of Gazza’s glorious goal against Scotland in 1996. And here we are, in 2021, facing our old rivals at Wembley in the Euros again. Phil Foden has dyed his hair in a Gazza style. Is it too much to hope that he can capture some of his iconic football magic as well?

Euro 2020 (in 2021) gives us all a chance to share in something special, something that brings us all together. We can hope together, celebrate together, enjoy together. If necessary we can commiserate together. But, after what everyone has been through over the past year and a half, I hope that the next month gives us moments to celebrate. Because, whether we win or lose, it’s coming home. You heard it here first.

Investing in education

Education hit the headlines over the half term break, when the government announced its education recovery plan. The announcement included an additional £1.4bn to be invested in education over the next three years. This is, by any stretch, a large amount of money – but it did not go down well. By the evening of the day of the big announcement, the government’s own Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins – the man appointed by the Prime Minister to oversee the education sector’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic – had resigned. His letter to Boris Johnson spelled out the reasons why he could not continue:

“I do not believe it will be possible to deliver a successful recovery without significantly greater support than the Government has, to date, indicated it intends to provide. I am concerned that the apparent savings offered by an incremental approach to recovery represent a false economy, as learning losses that are not addressed quickly are likely to compound.”

Sir Kevan Collins, in his letter of resignation to the Prime Minister

The headlines which followed told the story:

So why was the announcement of £1.4bn of extra funding for education so poorly received and so controversial? The main reason is that it was well-known that the plans put forward by Sir Kevan Collins were actually costed at ten times as much as the Treasury actually released. Reports suggest his plan would have cost £15bn. The Secretary of State for Education is reported to have asked the Treasury for £14bn. And the Treasury actually released a tenth of that, with funding ring-fenced to support tutoring and teacher development rather than many of the more ambitious (and expensive) proposals put forward.

So why was everyone so upset?

The government – and especially the Prime Minister – had been talking for weeks about prioritising education, talking about “levelling up” and suggesting it had a real ambition to do something radical. There had been much discussion in the media about extending the school day by half an hour, not just so that children could access tutoring in English and Maths, but also to provide opportunities for enrichment as laid out in Sir Kevan Collins’ letter:

“I believe our approach to recovery should also offer children opportunities to re-engage with sport, music, and the rich range of activities that define a great education. I proposed extending school time as a way to provide this breadth, as well as to ensure that additional academic support does not cause existing enrichment activities to be squeezed out.”

Sir Kevan Collins, from his resignation letter

Extending the school day is a complex, difficult thing to do. There would be a myriad of issues to work out and a mountain of obstacles to overcome. But it showed real ambition, a real sense of purpose, and it offered a genuine solution to the problem. With more time, we could do more – more performing arts, more sport, more outdoor education, more creativity, and more of the basics – without squeezing the stuff we already do.

At what cost?

Why would this plan cost so much? Well, an additional half an hour a day doesn’t sound like much – but there are over 24,000 schools in England. Additional time in each of those schools means additional staff would be needed in every single one. They would need to be heated, lit, powered and maintained for longer. Additional resources would be required for all those enrichment activities…in every school. The cost soon mounts up.

What Sir Kevan Collins showed the government was that a world class education system isn’t cheap. Other countries have realised this. In the Netherlands, the government has announced additional funding to support post-pandemic education recovery at around £2500 per child. In the USA, additional funding is running at £1600 per head. The graphic above shows that the UK government’s investment sits at just £50 per head, and even adding in previous education funding announcements only brings it up to £310 per head (as shown in the Financial Times.) As Geoff Barton said on Sky News: “what is it about those children in the Netherlands or the USA that makes them worth more?”

We know that the pandemic has cost the country countless billions already, not just in healthcare costs but lost earnings, furlough, collapsed businesses and welfare. There is no “magic money tree” and it is clear that the government cannot just make £15bn appear to invest in education on a whim. Money spent on education cannot be spent elsewhere – and there are many other worthy and important areas for the government to spending money on.

However, subsequent analysis showed that the education recovery funding set aside for England in the 2021-22 academic year amounts to £984 million – whereas the government spent £840 million on the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme in a single month in August 2020. I am certainly in favour of supporting the hospitality industry, which has been crippled by the pandemic – our restaurants and pubs need and deserve our help. But can it possibly be right that an entire year’s worth of funding to support our national education recovery is only slightly more than a month’s worth of funding to support hospitality?

Unfortunately, investing in education is not politically effective. It doesn’t fit neatly into the election cycle. When you spend money on education, you don’t see the benefits for decades – usually long after the careers of most politicians have concluded. But not investing in education – as Sir Kevan pointed out – is a false economy. Investing in education is an investment in reducing social problems, increasing employability and earning potential, and improving social mobility for the future.

Of course, we will still do everything we can at Churchill to provide a world class education with what we have. We know that the work we do here will continue to have an impact, not just in the short term to resolve immediate issues, but in the long term as we continue to do all we can to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference to themselves, to others, and to the society they will participate in. But, when I think about what we could be providing with additional funding…it feels like an opportunity missed.

The Class of 2021

Today we said farewell to the Year 13 class of 2021. These students – whether they have been with us for seven years, or joined us in the Sixth Form – have made a huge contribution to the Academy through their time with us. Their Sixth Form experience has been shaped and scarred by the coronavirus pandemic, but they have borne the trials and tribulations of self-isolations, two national lockdowns and cancelled exams with huge resilience and courage. We hold these students in such high esteem: their potential to go on and make a positive difference in the world is palpable. We wish them well.

Year 13 Class of 2021

Today has also been the “last day” for our Year 11 class of 2021. Although many of them will be returning in the Sixth Form, today marks the end of their time in the main school and they celebrated in style!

This year group holds a special place in my heart, as they are the first year group to come through the whole of the main school under my Headship. I visited some of them in their primary schools in my first months at Churchill, and welcomed them to the Academy as my first full Year 7 cohort. Many of them wrote to me before they joined us about their hopes and dreams, fears and wishes for the future – letters that I took great pleasure in reading out to them in their leavers’ assembly today!

The Year 11 Class of 2021

Our Year 11 students have also been disrupted by the pandemic, but they are far from the “lost generation” that the media is discussing. They are full of purpose, of positivity, and of potential. They will go on to accomplish great things – of that I am certain.